Maiden Running Away
Fresco (most likely) painted by Anonymous
Viewed once at The J. Paul Getty Museum
Visiting Los Angeles about twenty years ago, we toured around the sights and hung out with family. In one of those discussions about what to do the next day, we settled on visiting the Getty because of reasons that are long gone. They had some interesting Impressionistic paintings as well as a renowned antiquities collections. Either may have been the draw. Air conditioning and a view of the ocean might well have done it, too.
I only remember one thing clearly. In a little alcove within one of the rooms of ancient art, I came upon a large chunk of plaster removed from a wall somewhere in Italy (though it might have been any Roman influenced region). No more than a foot in length or width, the piece was broken about the edges as if removed with a chisel.
One image, larger than my hand, was visible. A young woman in robes ran away from the viewer, glancing back. I am no longer certain of her expression, but I don’t remember anything inviting. If anything, she wished to increase the distance between us. As I do, I spent a long time looking at her. Unexpectedly realistic and powerful in her solitary presence, I thought that it spoke of insurmountable distance in time and space. In short, it captured the subtle message of all ancient art- that people have long lived thoughtful and rich lives.
In the inevitable gift shop,I recall some museum catalog with the artwork on the cover, validating my impression that it was a worthy work of art (or at least reinforcing the fact that it had touched someone else). We did not buy the book.
If you have looked over online catalogs for the Getty in the past decade, you will not find this work of art. The museum catalog that I mention may be a figment of my imagination. I can find no reference to a work called Maiden Running Away, nor anything similar. I have no idea what you might call such a fresco.
Then, the Getty has had its share of troubles. Since its antiquities collection has come under such widespread trouble, much of the work has moved thither and you. For all I know, this piece of work that touched me so deeply once upon a time resides in a warehouse between the Ark of the Covenant and Rosebud the sled.
And I begin to ask myself what it could have been, this unremembered state which brought with it no logical proof, but the indisputable evidence, of its felicity, its reality, and in whose presence other states of consciousness melted and vanished. I decide to attempt to make it reappear.
Marcel Proust, Remembrance of Things Past – Volume 1: Swann’s Way: Within a Budding Grove, translated by C.K. Scott Moncrieff and Terence Kilmartin
As much as Proust’s cookies, this one piece of art remains for me a touchstone for a moment and a feeling- a miracle across the centuries, sustained by unreliable memory.
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You’ve Got to Check This Out is a blog series about music, words, and all sorts of artistic matters. It started with an explanation. 195 more to go.
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